Since continuing professional education first became a requirement in 1972, it has gradually, if stubbornly, evolved with the changing needs of the profession.

And more recently, the nation's CPE providers have unveiled a host of new curricula and learning formats, and have even begun baby steps toward mobile applications.

"CPE used to be a credit-by-crisis sort of strategy," said Rich Slusz, manager of global accounts for Becker Professional Education. "A lot of times people would wait until the end of the year and then try and cram in all the required credits. Today firms are much more proactive and identify core competencies at each staff level and build the CPE around it."

Slusz and a number of others say that firms stung by recession-affected budgets are now buying large blocks of CPE, while an increasing number of CPE customers are opting for an on-demand format and smaller "bites" of learning courses, as opposed to the more traditional live-learning classroom sessions.

"The two-day CPE conference format isn't dead, but it's limping along," quipped Sue Anderson, director of program development for online CPE provider CPE Link. "Almost every CPE provider is doing some form of online curriculum. That goes with the theory that small bites of learning are better and more effective than a flash flood of information."

At Becker, Slusz said that the company has developed a five-year matrix for each of the 140 courses in its CPE catalog, with each learning level corresponding to a level of experience. All are available on demand, thereby increasing the options for study time.

"You don't have to sit for four or eight hours at a time, like the traditional live CPE," he explained. "You can do it in one-hour increments, 30 minutes or even 15."

He also revealed that Becker was prepping for a rollout of a 14-course block of government not-for-profit instruction.

"[CPE is] still an immature industry in many ways," opined Ken Koskay, senior vice president and general manager of the certification business of the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters, which certifies 4 million hours of CPE each year through its various brands - Gear Up, Micromash, PassOnline, Bell Learning and AuditWatch. "For example, CPE became mandatory in countries like Canada and India just a few years ago. But what we're seeing now are customers who once preferred instructor-led CPE and thought of webinars as a second choice transitioning entirely to online learning. They've become more comfortable with the different types of technologies available to them."

Koskay said that Thomson Reuters is currently in the process of rolling out a series of comprehensive blended-learning packages available on its Checkpoint Learning platform, allowing users access to roughly 400 online courses, as well as connections to its PPC book-branded materials, unlimited webinars, and discounts of up to 40 percent on live seminars and conferences.

He added that the Tax & Accounting unit was also bolting on a live-event-management option to Checkpoint Learning, which records course completions and feeds them into the platform's CPE "homeroom," which will send e-alerts of a user's CPE hours. At live events, attendees would be given a nametag and a bar code, which would then be swiped and the results fed to the CPE monitoring system.

Over the next few months, Koskay revealed, the company is also gearing up to unveil iPad and iPhone applications for CPE.

 

LONG-TERM FOCUS

At CCH, a Wolters Kluwer Business, vice president of cross-market solutions Sue Nolan said that whenever new legislation is passed, customers are requiring a quick learning curve to assess the implications for their clients.

"There's a lot more pressure to assimilate that [new legislation] in a quicker manner," Nolan said. At CCH's recently established Learning Development Academy, the new unit focuses on long-term development needs, according to Kim Harmon, director of training and consulting services. The first school under the academy umbrella was its "School of Audit."

"For the new hires, the courses would consist of teaching the importance of workpapers and then working all the way through to knowledge-based audits," Harmon said. "They receive training on the very first day as a staff accountant and work with real-life case studies."

The company plans to add a School of Tax later in the year.

Last month, the American Institute of CPAs introduced a Certificate of Educational Achievement in International Financial Reporting Standards, allowing accountants and others to demonstrate IFRS competency to employers, firms and clients.

According to AICPA director of training Mike Ramos, the IFRS Certificate Program is a curriculum of 25 online, on-demand self-study training courses. "It's more than just training," he explained. "These courses are case-study-driven, a fully immersed learning experience. It's going from recall from what you learned to being able to apply what you've learned." (For more, see page 23.)

Ramos echoed the observations of others that there has been a marked increase in the need for smaller bites of learning with CPE.

"People want shorter bits of information and are looking outside the traditional eight-hour classroom training. When there was movement from paper-based to online, as with any new technology, the first thing that happens is that they take the old paradigm and apply it to the new technologies. That's why the first wave of e-learning was nothing more than basic page-turning."

Valerie Wendt, product manager for CPE and the CPA Review at Bisk and a 16-year veteran of the CPE arena, remembers when revolutionary new delivery formats for CPE consisted of VHS tapes. "Now, 100 percent of our CPE is delivered online," she said. "The older population of CPAs like the more traditional learning like the textbook format, and now that the younger CPAs are moving up, we have to take steps to reach them in their space and make sure our course content is easily accessible to iPads, and any browser that can be done from a Blackberry."

Bisk is also making its courses more integrated with various learning management systems and accessible to CPE tracking systems like Learnlive Technologies and Thomson Reuters' Reqwired.

Said the AICPA's Ramos, "We can certainly do more in the area of CPE. We can use technology to improve on the training product and move the learner or the learning outcome. Not only will they understand what they've learned, they can also say, 'Hey, I can analyze this as well.'"

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